It’s difficult to tell if it’s ageism or if one has simply reached one’s sell by date. But yes, I think it does exist. Simply in the natural way of things. One instance, you could say, a recent anthology of poems about Edinburgh, to which it seems no-one over seventy was invited to contribute. But you could argue that it’s time for today’s young to have their say. And as I say, I wouldn’t know if I’m too old, or if what I write may simply be out of fashion. Maybe it’s not ageism, but only natural, that there is a tendency for any inner circle to keep the perks to themselves, as it were. Also, the arbiters of taste in the arts, in the publishing and literary-cum-editorial world are these days themselves younger people. But latterly, if rather to my surprise, I’ve been asked to act as a judge, twice for the Edwin Morgan Award and latterly by the Scottish Book Trust, when they might’ve gone for someone younger.
The publishing world sometimes seems to be dominated by the very young. One of my recent novels was read by two publishing interns who were, at the most, in their early twenties. They weren’t enthusiastic and made unhelpful comments. But twenty-year-olds were not who I had in mind when I wrote the novel.
I’m not sure, but I never give my age when writing to publishers. I have heard that a long list of publications on your CV can count against you – it means you’ve been around forever, that you’re not new and exciting. Probably ageism is more of a problem for writers who don’t start until retirement age. Established authors have already made the breakthrough when they were younger and don’t meet it to quite the same extent.
A great deal of the ageism one comes up against is so casual. The world of the media is mostly populated by the young. Jimmie MacGregor once said to me, ‘You can’t get a job in the BBC if your balls have dropped!’ And this leads to a lack of a depth of understanding. I think that these days the people who make the decisions about what gets published and what doesn’t are not the editors, but very often the publicists. They are looking for things other than writing – youth and good looks being amongst them.